Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Addition Through Subtraction?

Will Manny's Absence Really Make the Sox Better?

By most accounts, the three-way deal between the Red Sox, Marlins and Pirates died because the Sox felt that the Marlins and Pirates were asking for too much. Boston simply felt like they were being held hostage and squeezed in the Manny Ramirez negotiations.

Despite the Red Sox' willingness to give up a future Hall of Famer who is having another All Star season, and the fact that they were wiling to pick up all of his remaining 2008 salary, the Marlins and Pirates actually wanted the Sox to sweeten the pot even further with prospects and/or cash. Obviously, both clubs thought they could hold a desperate Red Sox club over the proverbial barrel. Incredibly, the Marlins were in a position to acquire a $20 million superstar and still make money on the deal. Yet, it wasn't enough.

So the Dodgers stepped in. They sent third baseman Andy Laroche -- a player who hit .226 in 35 games last year, and who is hitting just .203 in 27 games this year -- along with minor league pitcher Bryan Morris in exchange for the great Manny Ramirez. Oh yeah, and the Sox will be paying Manny to play for the Dodgers for the rest of the year. What a deal -- what a steal -- for the Dodgers.

To obtaIn left fielder Jason Bay from Pittsburgh, the Red Sox not only parted with the All Star and future Hall of Famer Ramirez, but in addition they also sent outfielder Brandon Moss and reliever Craig Hansen to Pittsburgh. Oh, and did I mention the fact that the Red Sox will also be paying Manny to play for the Dodgers?

This move reeks of desperation. The Red Sox acted out of emotion and a burning desire to rid themselves of Manny Ramirez. That's how bad the relationship had become.

That sense of desperation has resulted in a rather uneven swap. Undoubtedly, it's yet to be determined if this was ultimately the best move for the Red Sox. But one has to ask; is this really the best they could do? And that's for one simple reason; they probably aren't a better team -- at least on paper -- after this trade. Jason Bay is a very good player, but he's no Manny Ramirez. Despite Manny's mental and emotional deficiencies, and as much of a headache as he was to John Henry, Theo Epstein and co., he's still a very good hitter. His best years may be behind him, but he's still a threat to opposing pitchers at this moment.

It's easy to assume that there were some bad vibes in the Sox clubhouse; some players were said to be fed up with Manny, while others still publicly supported him. That's to be expected on a veteran club. Obviously the sentiment was bad enough to force the Red Sox to act. Veteran players were surely consulted about the effect Manny was having on the team. The Sox recent performances speak volumes; this was a highly distracted ball club. Terry Francona is said to have lost 15 pounds in recent weeks as the stress mounted.

But everyone had seen this movie before; Manny usually got over his emotional outbursts and played well. During past disputes/trade demands, there were still years remaining on his contract. This time it was just months. Yet, the Sox had no faith that, in little time remaining in the "Manny Era," they could actually count on him. He had quit on his teammates two years ago, and he did it again this month. He was temperamental, moody and unpredictable. For management it was enough to consummate a lopsided trade.

Obviously, every other A.L. team was hoping this deal would go through, and surely they are all celebrating this evening. A Red Sox team that's already looked suspect since the break, going 4-8, may have grown even weaker. Time will tell.

Yes, Bay is younger and cheaper, but he's not better than Ramirez. Cheaper doesn't matter to the Sox; they can afford any price tag. And they could have addressed left field and gotten younger in the offseason. As much of a prima donna, malcontent, "me first" player as Manny is, losing his presence in the lineup could hurt the Sox down the stretch. He provided protection for Big Papi in the batting order. That lineup will now be shuffled in a way it hasn't for years. Ortiz and Ramirez were married in the lineup and were the game's most lethal combo for the past six seasons.

Furthermore, putting a small-market-type player, like Bay, in the glare of the Boston spotlight and asking him to fill Manny's rather large shoes amounts to enormous pressure. Many players would wilt under such expectations. We can only hope that Bay is not one of them. He has never played in the post-season before. Baseball is an afterthought in Pittsburgh, and there is no pressure in playing there. No one expects the Pirates to win, or for Pirates' players to perform at the highest level. It's a perfect environment for the young Moss and Hansen. Perhaps they will thrive there.

For all the comparisons to the historic Nomar Garciaparra trade, Nomar was a faded star when the Sox dealt him in July of 2004. At the time he had just 7 doubles, 5 homers, and 21 RBI. If Manny had those sort of numbers, there wouldn't be nearly the same concern about the Red Sox losing him.

Here's how Ramirez and Bay stack up:

Ramirez: BA .299, HR 20, RBI 68, OBP .398, Slugging .590

Bay: BA .282, HR 22, RBI 64, OBP .375, Slugging .515

Yes, the numbers are quite similar. But.hanging on to Manny Ramirez would given the Red Sox a better chance of getting to the post-season and of winning. He has a history of being a clutch hitter the playoffs, as well as the World Series. The Sox could have picked up his option in November and then traded him. Manny had no leverage in this matter. He put himself at the Red Sox' mercy when he agreed to that contract in December 2000. Now he's gotten the leverage and control he wanted by forcing the Sox to move him at such a steep price. Keeping Manny would have given the Sox the opportunity to find the best possible trade partner in the offseason, with the luxury of more suitors and more time. This was clearly a rash decision made under duress and in a limited time frame. Not ideal circumstances for making a critical decision.

At this point in his career, Manny is a 30-homer, 100 RBI player -- not the monster hitting machine he was in years past. There are other players of similar calibre available at a much lower cost. That fact, in addition to Manny's attitude and antics, might have dissuaded potential trade partners this winter. It's very telling that the Sox found it so difficult to interest anyone in taking him today -- even though they were willing to eat the remainder of his 2008 salary.

Paying Manny to play for the Dodgers for the rest of the season, plus paying Jason Bay's salary this year and next, will still amount to less than the $20 million that the Sox would have owed Ramirez in 2009 had they exercised their option on him. Surely, that was part of their rationale.

Apparently, owner John Henry was the most hesitant to trade Ramirez. He felt that the Sox could not get sufficient value in return and that Manny would give the team the best chance of winning. After all, the Sox had been down this road with their savant slugger before, and it had worked out pretty well for them.

But the need to restore sanity in the clubhouse prevailed. Management believed that its very integrity was at stake. Manny had been treated differently than his teammates for far too long. There were the "Manny Rules," and then there were the rules that everyone else had to abide by. That sort of thing is like a cancer, and it undermines team unity and harmony. And for that reason, Manny had to go.

Excluding this season, Manny had already made $143,328,346 in his career. And yet he is still worried about things like money, respect, and "peace." The Red Sox will no longer have to put up with the headache that is Manny Ramirez. And they can only hope they are better without him than with him. The next two months will be a revelation.

It was inevitable; Manny's time with the Red Sox had to come to an end. It just came sooner, rather than later.

Copyright © 2008 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author's consent.

No comments: